The first soldier to be killed in the Iraq war was Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez. He died in combat on March 21, 2003. He was 22 years old. He was a Marine (2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division – Camp Pendleton, California).
He, also, was not a U.S. Citizen.
His story is exactly what makes our country so unique. At the age of 14, an orphan, he traveled from Guatemala to the United States. He was captured by U.S. authorities, but having arrived as a minor with no parents, he was not sent back. He was made a ward of the Los Angeles courts. He lived with foster families, learned our language and graduated from High School. He did what millions of immigrants did before him, when given the opportunity; they work hard to improve their lives.
At the age of 18 he became a Resident of the United States. After High School he joined the Marine Corps. He joined to save up for college, and like so many thousands before him, he chose to give back to the country that had given him so much.
As of March 5th, 2013, he was the first of 4,488 men and women in uniform that would die in the Iraq war. Of those, 3,532 died in combat. He was one of 31,000 ‘green-card’ soldiers who fight for a country that isn’t theirs. It was later discovered that though killed in combat, he was actually killed by Friendly fire.
To those Americans who scream we need to SUPPORT OUR TROOPS NO MATTER WHAT, and at the same time like to scream THEY (immigrants) NEED TO GO BACK WHERE THEY CAME FROM – I like to tell them about Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez. I like to tell them how he came to this country as a last hope of survival, learned our language, graduated in our educational system and showed his respect for this country by serving the way he felt he needed to, by becoming a United States Marine.
I then like to ask them if perhaps this man, and men and women like him, had done enough – by sacrificing their lives for your freedom – to have earned your respect yet. They are usually unable to give a coherent answer, because too many Americans choose to celebrate their freedom, by remaining hateful and ignorant.
And to Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, and all those who have died, been wounded, committed suicide or have returned from the Iraq War and are expected to just pick up where they left off – I’m sorry. I’m sorry you were sent to a war based on lies from a gang of Politicians who were supposed to use your lives only as a last option. I’m sorry this country seemed to forget we were at war during many of those years. I’m sorry our voices and our votes were not loud enough to bring you home sooner and I’m sorry that we aren’t treating you the way we like to pretend we treat our soldiers and our veterans.
I don’t know how a country who likes to shout so loudly about Honor and Respect, could be so far from showing much honor and respect, for those who we like to call our heroes. I don’t know how we change that. I’m sorry.
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter, among other works.